Let’s talk about mental health in YOUR workplace

A lot has changed in the employment industry over the last few years. One of the most welcome changes is that the subject of mental health is no longer the taboo it used to be. With the increasing demands, stresses and uncertainties of modern life, more and more employers and managers are realising how vitally important it is to promote positive mental health and wellbeing in their workplace.

Still, despite all those good intentions, a major 2018 study conducted by the mental health charity Mind has revealed that poor mental health at work continues to be widespread, with 48% of people surveyed saying they had experienced a mental health problem in their current job.

Mind’s research has also shown1:

  • More than one in five people suffering from workplace stress have called in sick to avoid working
  • 14% of people suffering from workplace stress have resigned, and 42% considered resigning
  • 30% of staff disagreed with the statement ‘˜I would feel able to talk openly with my line manager if I was feeling stressed’
  • 56% of employers said they would like to do more to improve staff wellbeing but didn’t feel they were equipped with the right training or guidance

Mind says there is still a culture of fear and silence surrounding mental health which is proving costly to both employers and their staff. Although their research wasn’t industry specific, recent surveys carried out by the union Unite and the magazine The Caterer have exposed how poor mental health is also significantly impacting workers in the hospitality sector.

Unite’s snapshot survey of London chefs revealed 51% suffered from depression due to overwork, 69% believed their hours impacted their health, and 27% said they drank alcohol to see them through the shift2.

The Caterer’s survey revealed that (out of 713 respondents) 59% considered themselves to currently have a mental health problem, and 71% had experienced a mental health problem at some point. Of those, 51% had sought help or guidance for it but 56% said their employer was not aware of what they were going through. 70% of respondents said they still felt there was a stigma surrounding mental health in the hospitality industry and more than half of the survey’s respondents cited long hours, unreasonable work demands and working within a high-pressure environment as having an adverse impact on their mental health3.

When you consider that approximately one in four of us will experience a mental health problem every year, it’s easy to see that a lot of work still needs to be done.

Okay, so now let’s leave all the statistics and percentages behind. After all, this is an issue that’s not about numbers, it’s about people. As recruiters, our entire focus is on finding the very best candidates for our clients which means we always encourage our clients to create a workplace in which everyone feels valued and supported and has the best opportunities to thrive. If you can accomplish that, you won’t only be employing a happier and more successful team (who will always want to do their best for you), you’ll be attracting the kind of top talent who’ll want to work for you because you’re an employer who demonstrably cares about their welfare.

Think about it this way. People who are in good mental health work more productively, have good levels of attendance, interact better with their colleagues and customers, and make a valuable contribution to the business. But you shouldn’t assume that your employees’ mental health will always be continuously good. Depending on the pressures they’re experiencing at work and/or in their personal lives, even your sunniest and most motivated team members can find themselves wrestling with mental health issues. As an employer or manager, it’s important that you’ll know what to do when that happens, and that includes making sure your team members feel comfortable enough to talk with you when they’re feeling stressed and have mental health concerns.

Here are a few other things to consider:

  • Actively promoting positive wellbeing in your workplace: make sure your employees feel listened to and valued and, where appropriate, allow them to make their own decisions about how they perform their role/arrange their shift schedules etc. Facilitate team building to encourage better communication and more positive working relationships, support flexible working and encourage a healthy work/life balance. Also, give your team members the opportunities to develop within their role and within your business so they’ll see you’re invested in their future and they’ll feel motivated to pursue the larger goal
  • Raise awareness and promote discussion of mental health issues to overcome stigma and reinforce the message that you value your team’s mental wellbeing
  • Stay aware of each of your team member’s workloads, be clear about your priorities and set realistic targets
  • Have regular one-to-ones and catch-ups to monitor how their work is going and to find out about any challenges they may be facing that you’re not aware of. If they need extra support, find a way to give it. Don’t just talk about it and hope the situation will improve by itself
  • Train yourself to recognise some of the most common signs and symptoms of mental ill health and know when and how to sensitively intervene if that’s required

It might seem overwhelming, but there’s a lot of help out there to support you and your team through the mental health and wellbeing journey. In fact, a very good place to start is the Mental Health at Work website (https://www.mentalhealthatwork.org.uk/). It’s curated by Mind and it’s packed with all kinds of plain and simple common-sense advice including toolkits, e-learning portals, factsheets and guides.

With so many resources to help you navigate the issue of mental health, you can devise strategies to help your people and organisation be more resilient. Employees who feel listened to and cared for by their employers are far more likely to perform better when they are in good health.